A sliver of Mars brought to Earth by a meteorite will be returned to the Red Planet aboard NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission. The piece of meteorite referred as Sayh al Uhaymir 008 (SaU008) will be used aboard the rover to assist with the calibration of a high-precision laser.
One of the many scientific instruments that will be equipped to the Mars 2020 rover is the SHERLOC (Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals). The highly sensitive laser instrument is designed to “illuminate rock features as fine as a human hair.” The extreme sensitivity of the instrument requires a baseline sample to allow for calibrations following equipment misalignment caused by changes in temperature and terrain. This is where the meteorite sample comes in.
“We’re studying things on such a fine scale that slight misalignments, caused by changes in temperature or even the rover settling into sand, can require us to correct our aim,” said SHERLOC principal investigator, Luther Beegle. “By studying how the instrument sees a fixed target, we can understand how it will see a piece of the Martian surface.”
To date, only 200 meteorites found on Earth have been confirmed to have originated from Mars. NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tested several options requiring the final sample to fulfil a range of specific criteria. SaU008 was found in Oman in 1999 and had been a part of the Natural History Museum’s collection in London.
“Every year, we provide hundreds of meteorite specimens to scientists all over the world for study,” said Caroline Smith, principal curator of meteorites at London’s Natural History Museum. “This is a first for us: sending one of our samples back home for the benefit of science.”
In addition to analysing the Martian surface, NASA hopes to use the Mars 2020 rover to collect a range of samples of the Red Planet. The samples would then be retrieved during a multibillion-dollar sample return mission launched in 2026.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech